Posted: Monday March 12, 2012 12:28PM ; Updated: Monday March 12, 2012 12:28PM
David Sabino
David Sabino>FANTASY INSIDER MLB

Talent weighs more than lineup slot in targeting fantasy draftees

Story Highlights

Yankees used only 37 different lineups in 154 games in 1927

On average, teams used 124.4 different lineups last season

Fantasy owners should focus on talent, not lineup in draft targets

Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
In his first season in Texas, Mike Napoli hit a career-high 30 home runs and drove in 75 runs in 113 games.
In his first season in Texas, Mike Napoli hit a career-high 30 home runs and drove in 75 runs in 113 games.
AP

For the 17th year in a row I was assigned the task of compiling the projected starting lineups and statistics for the SI Baseball Preview issue. It's pretty much my bread and butter, figuring out who fits where in each batting order, rotation and bullpen for the quickly approaching season. A time consuming task, it's also fluid, changing with every spring game as jobs are won and lost, injuries arise or are put to bed or adventurous managers toy with lineups.

For all of the time and effort that goes into the process, starting lineups are among the least stable entities in sports. Perhaps the most famous batting order of all time, the 1927 Murderers Row Yankees, used 37 different lineups over 154 games. That may seem high, but it's incredibly low compared to today's standards. On average, not including the different pitchers, teams used 124.4 lineups in 2011 (123.4 in the AL, 125.3 in the NL). The least stable lineups in the AL were no surprise as the Twins (150 out of 162) were ravaged by injuries all season while the Mariners' (152) offense was so bad that they needed to keep trying different combinations to see if anything would work. The NL's leader in most lineups used was Dusty Baker, who wrote down his batting order in 142 different combinations.

The two most stable teams? In the NL, Charlie Manuel's Phillies were an offensive force yet still needed 105 separate iterations. And in the AL it wasn't the offensive juggernauts of the Red Sox, Yankees or Rangers that took the prize. It was Ned Yost's young Royals, who lined up only 87 different ways.

The lesson in this is that some fantasy owners get too caught up in who's starting and who's not, who makes the team out of camp and who doesn't, and who is batting one place in the order as compared to another. In reality, elite players remain stable while everyone else is always in flux. It's more important to make sure that you pick quality players, regardless of current situation. Talent will always prevail.

The biggest benefit of sifting through all of the possible lineup combinations is that by the end of the preview process, I'm well-versed on most position battles and the situations of every player on every team. So instead of cluttering the already overloaded stat-o-sphere with more numbers, I'm simply sharing with you who I have come to believe are the top players to own at every position in each league based on my weeks of research.

Catchers

Unlike most seasons, when there aren't as many catchers as needed in AL-only leagues, this season will be different with players like Carlos Santana, Mike Napoli, Jesus Montero and Ryan Doumit all due to see serious time at other positions.

Can't Miss: Mike Napoli, Rangers; Brian McCann, Braves
Underrated: Alex Avila, Tigers; Jonathan Lucroy, Brewers
Sleepers: Wilson Ramos, Nationals; Salvador Perez, Royals; Kelly Shoppach, Red Sox
Breakout/Bounceback: Jesus Montero, Mariners; Devin Mesoraco, Reds

First Base

As I talked about a few weeks ago, the depth at first base is historic in the AL and awfully thin in the NL, making Joey Votto even more valuable than usual.

Can't Miss: Albert Pujols, Angels; Adrian Gonzalez, Red Sox; Prince Fielder, Tigers; Joey Votto, Reds
Breakout/Bounceback: Eric Hosmer, Royals; Paul Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks; Brandon Belt, Giants
Sleepers: Mitch Moreland, Rangers; Bryan LaHair, Cubs

Second Base

Traditionally an offensive afterthought, second base has developed into a premium offensive position chock full of middle of the order talent.

Can't Miss: Dustin Pedroia, Red Sox; Brandon Phillips, Reds; Robinson Cano, Yankees
Underrated: Neil Walker, Pirates; Howard Kendrick, Angels, Ben Zobrist, Rays
Breakout/Bounceback: Jemile Weeks, Athletics; Dustin Ackley, Mariners, Aaron Hill, Diamondbacks, Chase Utley, Phillies
Sleepers: Jose Altuve, Astros, Jason Kipnis, Indians

Shortstop

The glamour position of the past two decades has turned into a glove-first, offense-challenged spot as the top talent has relocated to other spots on the diamond.

Can't Miss: Astrubal Cabrera, Indians; Troy Tulowitzki, Rockies, Jose Reyes, Marlins
Underrated: Ian Desmond, Nationals; Jhonny Peralta, Tigers
Breakout/Bounceback: Elvis Andrus, Rangers; Hanley Ramirez, Marlins
Sleepers: Mike Aviles, Red Sox; Dee Gordon, Dodgers

Third Base

Already deep last year, the hot corner is now blazing with the additions of Miguel Cabrera and Hanley Ramirez. Is it possible that A-Rod and his megabucks deal isn't in the Top 5 at his position anymore?

Can't Miss: Evan Longoria, Rays, Miguel Cabrera, Tigers
Underrated: Adrian Beltre, Rangers; Aramis Ramirez, Brewers
Breakout/Bounceback: Brett Lawrie, Blue Jays; Mike Moustakas, Royals; David Wright, Mets
Sleepers: Josh Donaldson, Athletics, Ryan Roberts, Diamondbacks

Outfielders

The quest for the elusive speed-power combination that fantasy players crave leads to the outfield, where much of the game's elite talent is stored. This is the final season of natural disparity between the leagues -- there's plenty of talent to go around in 12-team NL-only leagues, it's scarce in AL-only circuits of the same size -- as the Astros move to the AL evens things out for 2013.

Can't Miss: Jose Bautista, Blue Jays, Jacoby Ellsbury, Red Sox; Curtis Granderson, Yankees; Ryan Braun, Brewers; Matt Kemp, Dodgers; Hunter Pence, Phillies; Carlos Gonzalez, Rockies; Justin Upton, Diamondbacks
Underrated: Brennan Boesch, Tigers; Shin-Soo Choo, Indians; Nelson Cruz, Rangers; Alex Gordon, Royals, Giancarlo Stanton, Marlins; Logan Morrison, Marlins; Shane Victorino, Phillies; Will Venable, Padres; Michael Cuddyer, Rockies
Breakout/Bounceback: Desmond Jennings, Rays; Yoenis Cespedes, Athletics; Bryce Harper, Nationals; Jon Jay, Cardinals
Sleepers: Dayan Viciedo, White Sox; Eric Thames, Blue Jays; Mike Carp, Mariners; Nolan Reimold, Orioles; J.D. Martinez, Astros; Melky Cabrera, Giants; John Mayberry Jr., Phillies

Designated Hitters

For those who use a DH-only spot.

Can't Miss: David Ortiz, Red Sox, Billy Butler, Royals
Underrated: Raul Ibaņez, Yankees; Michael Young, Rangers
Breakout/Bounceback: Adam Dunn, White Sox; Jesus Montero
Sleepers: Kendrys Morales, Angels; Brandon Allen, Athletics

Starting Pitchers

After an era of offensive superiority, pitching has made a successful comeback, and now there are more than enough aces to go around.

Can't Miss: The Phillies, Justin Verlander, Tigers; Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers; Jered Weaver, Angels; Dan Haren, Angels; Yu Darvish, Rangers; Felix Hernandez, Mariners, Zack Greinke, Brewers; Tim Lincecum, Giants; Ian Kennedy, Daimondbacks; Tim Hudson, Braves;
Underrated: Ricky Romero, Blue Jays; Jeremy Hellickson, Rays; Doug Fister, Tigers; Justin Masterson, Indians; Matt Cain, Giants; Daniel Hudson, Diamondbacks; Jair Jurrjens, Braves; Gio Gonzalez, Nationals; Johnny Cueto, Reds
Breakout/Bounceback: David Price, Rays; Michael Piņeda, Yankees; Adam Wainwright, Cardinals; Madison Bumgarner, Giants; Johan Santana, Mets; Stephen Strasburg, Nationals; Josh Johnson, Marlins
Sleepers: Alfredo Aceves, Red Sox; Rick Porcello, Tigers; Brandon McCarthy, Athletics; Josh Collmenter, Diamondbacks; Vance Worley, Phillies; Carlos Zambrano, Cubs; Brandon Beachy, Braves;

Relievers

The most volatile fantasy position usually undergoes at least 40 percent turnover from those who start the season pitching in the ninth inning to those who finish it. It's vital to get at least one lock, but it's also a good idea to take a chance on a couple of reaches because in doing so you could easily stumble upon the next great closer.

Can't Miss: John Axford, Brewers; Craig Kimbrel, Braves; Jose Valverde, Tigers; Mariano Rivera, Yankees; Ryan Madson, Reds; Jonathan Papelbon, Phillies, Brian Wilson, Giants
Underrated: Francisco Cordero, Blue Jays; David Robertson, Yankees; Alexi Ogando, Rangers; J.J. Putz, Diamondbacks; Jonny Venters, Braves
Breakout/Bounceback: Joe Nathan, Rangers; Brandon League; Mariners; Joakim Soria, Royals
Sleepers: Rafael Betancourt, Rockies; Vinnie Pestano, Indians; Brett Myers, Astros; Jesse Crain, White Sox; Jason Motte, Cardinals; Kenley Jansen, Dodgers; Sergio Romo, Giants

Need some personalized information? Be sure to send your fantasy questions and comments throughout the fantasy year on Twitter @SI_DavidSabino. The best will be presented here every Monday throughout the season.

 
SI.com
Hot Topics: NBA Draft Yasiel Puig NHL Playoffs NBA Playoffs Mark Cuban Jabari Parker
TM & © 2014 Time Inc. A Time Warner Company. All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this service is provided to you. Read our privacy guidelines, your California privacy rights, and ad choices.
SI CoverRead All ArticlesBuy Cover Reprint